Editor’s note: Go behind the scenes with Carrie Underwood when her episode of CMT’s In the Moment premieres Friday (Dec. 16) at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
You’ve just won American Idol! What are you going to do next? If you’re Carrie Underwood, you go to Nashville. A longtime country fan, the talented Oklahoma native is cruising the country airwaves with “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” Answering these questions from her fans, Underwood talks about finding songs, handling criticism and making the easy choice between romance and animals.
1. What gave you the courage to stick with your country roots? It had to take courage when competing on American Idol.
I was a little worried in the beginning about maybe possibly singing country music to people who might not really understand it. I thought it may be a little detrimental to me, but I knew that that’s the kind of record deal I wanted afterwards, whether I won or not. I figured it would be silly to stray because then I’d end up with possibly nothing.
2. I know it is important for you to be in Nashville to further your career. Are you going to live there? I am an Oklahoman, and we are hoping you’ll keep your ties here.
My parents do still live in Oklahoma, so if I ever have a couple of days off, I’m definitely going to Oklahoma. It really makes sense for me to have a house here in Nashville just because everything and everybody I work with is here in Nashville. It just makes sense, instead of me living in a hotel, like I’m doing right now, to get a house. Hopefully that will happen very soon. But also Oklahoma is home — home-home.
3. How much input did you actually have in choosing songs for your new CD?
There were so many wonderful songs from wonderful, wonderful songwriters here in Nashville — and everywhere else — that were sending us great songs. It was really just a matter of several of us sitting down and picking ones that would definitely work for me and definitely work for everything. I’ve never done this before, obviously, so I don’t know what the best songs are. It’s ultimately my decision about everything, so I definitely had people around helping me figure things out. I could have never done that alone. People would send me songs here and there, and we’d weed them out.
4. What was the first thing that came to your mind when your name was called as the new American Idol?
I honestly don’t think I was thinking anything. I think it was all just kind of a shocked, emotional time. I mean, I was just waiting for my name to be called –and it was — so it was like exciting and shocking and happy all at the same time.
5. You and Bo Bice seemed very close on the show. Have you spoken to him outside the American Idol tour? Is there any thought to doing a duet together?
I have seen him since the tour was over, and he is doing very well. He’s definitely got his own stuff going on right now, so if we did do something, it would definitely be later on in the future. We’re both kind of trying to work on getting ourselves established first and then possibly branching out into duets and whatnot. I wish him the best, and I know he wishes me the best.
6. Was there ever a time on American Idol where you just didn’t want to be in the competition anymore?
There were times when I was really scared, but that was about the only reason. I thought, “I gotta quit” or just thoughts running through my head like, “What if I can’t? What if I fail?” But I knew I had to keep going, or I’d regret it forever.
7. Are you considering cutting a full-length version of Heart’s “Alone” for an album? Lots of us thought it was your best performance on the show and really propelled you to victory. We also liked your version of Pat Benatar’s “Love Is a Battlefield” and Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing at All.”
Heart and Pat Benatar, they are definitely such amazing people. I was just trying not to screw the songs up. I really like Air Supply. I think it would be really fun to have a female do some of their songs. I love them to death, and I think that would work. But me trying to do Heart or Pat Benatar as my own, I don’t think it would work out so well. It was fun, like kind of pretend or try my best to try to do them, but that’s not really so much my style. They are awesome. They’re amazing.
8. What are your plans for promoting your new album? When can we expect to see you on a solo tour?
There are a lot of talk shows and things like that. A lot of press that I’m going to be doing. … As far as the tour goes, you know, we’re shooting for next spring, so it depends on who’s going to be on tour then and who I can go sing with. So, whoever it is, I’m excited. I would rather tour with somebody because I think I need to work up to [headlining shows]. I don’t think I’m there yet, to be able to do my own, personally. I think I would feel much more comfortable if I were a special guest with somebody.
9. Do you have special requests when you go on tour? What are the requirements for your dressing room?
Whenever we were on tour, I didn’t even turn in my riders sheet, just because all I pretty much need is water, and I’m good. Maybe if they have fruit or a vegetable tray or whatever, I’m good with that, too. But as far as any requirements, I don’t have any.
10. Is there anyone else in your family who’s musical? Who taught you guitar?
Nobody else in my family is really musical. My oldest sister has a nice voice, but she is definitely not an entertainer. She does not like to be in front of people, and she gets really nervous. As far as me learning the guitar, I actually learned the piano first, and I think that really helped me out. I could kind of teach myself some stuff on the guitar, and I took lessons my junior year of high school.
11. Do you carry any particular CDs from your music collection around with you when you’re traveling away from home? If so, which ones?
I keep my iPod with me — which has every CD I have, ranging from everything from country to oldies to hard rock to R&B to whatever you can think of. I think I’d go crazy if I didn’t have that with me. I love Randy Travis. He’s a good calm-me-down guy. Pretty much anything. I just keep it on shuffle. You never know. It’s fun that way. It’s fun guessing what’s gonna be next.
12. Can you read sheet music or do you play by ear or by listening to a song?
I can read sheet music. It takes me a bit longer if I don’t hear the song first. It’s a kind of a mixture of both. If I hear it, I definitely know when something sounds wrong, but I think it helps me to do both.
13. With all these “pinch me” moments, even before your debut album, are you able to take a break? And what do you do to relax?
I’ve got to go home a couple of times since May. Breaks are pretty much about doing nothing, and I think that’s the most important thing I can do. When I don’t have to do anything, I get to do absolutely nothing … if that makes any sense at all. I like to stay in my pajamas. I don’t want to put makeup on. I just want to watch TV. That’s all I want to do.
14. What has been the toughest piece of criticism to take from someone who may be interviewing you or from someone you run across in public?
I’d say the worst criticism doesn’t happen in interviews because usually people are very nice in the interviews. The worst criticism is things people say on the Internet or on different kind of picky shows, like critiquing what’s she wearing or how she looks or how she sounds. Those things are really hard to take because … I don’t feel like I’ve worked my way up to that yet. A lot of people have more time to get used to that. One day we’re normal people, who nobody talks about. And the next day, I’m the American Idol who everybody thinks is short or too blonde or not as good as everybody thinks. That’s really hard to take, just people talking. I don’t get on fan sites anymore. I used to, especially when we were on the show. We all did. I saw so many people get broken because of it. They’d go out there with a “this is me, this is who I am” attitude. Then they’d start reading what people thought about that — what people who don’t matter thought about that — and it would break them. Eventually, I kind of trained myself not to look at them anymore. It’s just better that way.
15. How can you be associated with PETA since you grew up in rural Oklahoma? They do not like livestock shows, rodeos, hunting and fishing. These are the activities that define us as Oklahomans.
That’s a good question. I don’t think those things define us as Oklahomans. I think that the way that we are in our personality and in the morals that we have, I think that defines us Oklahomans. Livestock is definitely a big deal in Oklahoma. A lot of my friends were in FFA and stuff like that growing up. … I just choose not to eat animals. That’s it. I’m not really associated with PETA. If they’re doing a spay-or-neuter campaign, I’m all for it. I’m not really for so many radical things. I think there’s just an easier way. I don’t preach to others about it. This is just the way I am. If you were sitting there next to me, eating a steak right now, I wouldn’t say anything about it because that’s your choice, just like it’s my choice not to eat it.
16. When did you become a vegetarian?
I quit eating beef when I was somewhere between 10 and 13 because we do have cows and I did bottle feed them and stuff like that. They were like my pets. I had an incident one day that made me refuse to eat beef ever, ever again. Later on, my neighbor had pigs, and I thought they were cute, and it just kind of went on and on from there. I phased it out over a period of time. My parents were actually banding calves. I don’t know if you know what that means. I’m not going to explain it to you. … Basically, it was to make them grow bigger so people could eat them, and they were so cute, and it just made me sad.
17. You seem so quiet and reserved. Is there a wild side to Carrie Underwood?
I think everybody has got a little wild streak no matter how quiet they are. It’s always the quiet ones you gotta worry about, right? I’ve never, ever, ever done anything remotely, like, bad at all. I’ve never so much as been pulled over, knock on wood. But everybody’s got a little wild streak in them, even if it’s small. It’s pretty rare for wild Carrie to come out, but if it does, I’m usually with my friends, so you know, I would just get a little rowdy.
18. In fashion, how would you describe your style? Where do you shop?
What style? If I’m forced to look nice, I think I do OK with it. I think I do a pretty decent job, but usually you’ll see me walking around in what looks like PJs, like flannel pants and T-shirts. That’s what I feel comfortable in. If I am having to dress up, I like to go to places like Bebe. I think their clothes are cute. I love to shop, but usually … I don’t really go for expensive things. I still shop like I did before, so I love Abercrombie and American Eagle and places like that. Just normal people places.
19. You have expressed numerous times your everlasting love for animals. You’ve also mentioned that you haven’t found Mr. Right. If you had to choose between animals and men, what would you choose?
I would choose animals all the way. I know that’s the one thing in life I cannot live without. I would be so amazingly unhappy if I didn’t have my puppies and my kitties. I haven’t found a good man, yet. I’ve found lots of good animals, so I’d go with animals.
20. What do you think are the most important qualities in any person?
I think honesty is very important in people. Just basically having a good heart — and you can take that however you want to. I’m not talking like sainthood or anything. I’m just saying being a good person, having good morals and growing up, similar to the way I did — good family, good values and stuff like that. Good wholesome stuff.